Scotch + Limon, or to give them their actual names, Barrie Wilson and Fabrice Limon, are two halves of a consultancy company who mould booze brands into the products we want to drink. They’ve found a neat little hole in the market and plugged it with a business that’s passionate and gives a voice to the small brands. But they're not your ususal office workers setting up a consultancy. These two fun and laugh-out-loud chaps have all the charm of former bartenders and the creativity of people who work with their hands.
What enables a company like Scotch + Limon to flourish is a booze market saturated with brands, and not just average ones either. Nearly all the gins, vodkas, vermouths and rums making their way to market are well-made and very tasty. So how do you break ahead? Hire these boys of course.
Perhaps boys isn't quite a fitting title however as between them they have 40 years experience in the drinks world. From the best bars in Scotland’s capital to launching World Class for Diageo, Barrie has had an illustrious career essentially creating the role of brand ambassador for the global company. After all the hard work he jokes that he still sweats Tanquerary from every pore. Fabrice on the other hand came from the smaller side of the industry, helping to shape and set up brands with Mangrove and Quintessentially before which he was operating some of South Yorkshire's most awarded gastropubs and bartending in London.
So to say they’re qualified for the job is underselling the wealth of experience these two have.
Friends and business partners Barrie Wilson and Fabrice Limon.
A Passionate Ethos
When we meet up with Barrie and Fabrice it's immediately obvious that these two have mountains of personality and passion for their work. They epitomise the phrase ‘think outside the box’ and the stories they have to tell are all about the success of their clients, from Seedlip’s non-alcoholic Martini tasting going down a storm at 9am to cocktails enlivened by Regal Rogue. What's more they're both born comedians, bouncing off each other the entire way through the conversation. Life with these two can be anything but boring.
As a company Scotch + Limon has a mixed bag of clients, with the small, newer brands - think Seedlip, Pink Pepper gin and Regal Rogue - jostling for space alongside well-known bottles such as Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal.
“It’s about giving the small brands a voice. But that can often mean they don’t have the money. Fortunately one side of the business helps out the other,” says Barrie.
“We’re just as passionate about our small brands as their owners are. We know starting a brand is bloody hard work,” says Fabrice.
The main problem many smaller start-ups face, say Barrie and Fabrice, is being picked up by distribution companies who may be excited by them but can’t do anything until their financially viable. Distribution companies don’t help with the base idea.
Cocktails with Regal Rogue - the Australian vermouth.
Taking On A Brand
It’s difficult to explain exactly what Barrie and Fabrice do for brands because it changes with each brand. Some come to them with fistfuls of cash and want the complete works. Pimp my gin if you like. Others come with a specific request; get me into key venues, create a cocktail serve, train me a brand ambassador.
“When we take on a brand we meet the person first, and try the liquid second,” says Fabrice. “We look for people who are unique in their field and we want to be as excited about the product as the owners.”
“It’s about getting a brand to where they deem a success,” says Barrie. “A lot of the smaller guys start up with the intention of making a successful brand and then selling it to the big guys like Diageo. We don’t like taking people on if that’s their aim. You shouldn’t think like that, it takes away from your passion. If you’re in it for the money then good luck but we’re the wrong people to speak to.”
If you pass the personality and liquid tests then it’s time for the packaging to be scrutinised. Sounds like a vanity project but in reality it’s the most crucial part. We might be beyond judging books by their covers but not booze brands.
After that it’s all about getting brands onto cocktail lists, on the back bar, training bartenders to pick out the key flavours and how to sell those onto consumers.
“People can come to us with a wish list or we can create it. For example you need X, Y and Z to succeed. What can you afford and what is the priority?” says Fabrice.
“We don’t take over or do everything though,” says Barrie. “We’re not about taking away their product. Brand owners are integral, people like Ben from Seedlip are key in driving their brands and telling their story.”
An exciting launch for Scotch + Limon - the non-alcoholic Seedlip.
Looking For Uniqueness
The booze world is now at saturation level when it comes to the words small craft, hand crafted and batched. The heyday of craft is over and the fact a brand is small shouldn’t be their USP. Something Fabrice and Barrie know well.
“Take Pink Pepper gin,” says Fabrice. “It’s in a saturated market and you can’t promote a gin based on the fact it has one unique botanical. What we draw on is the way it’s made, its heritage and quality, its back story. We talk a brand through, break it down, strip it back, can it fit somewhere? Is it viable? It can tick all the boxes but if the market is overdone then we can’t help. There is no easy way, for big or small brands.”
Seedlip was one of the big stories this year, a truly unique brand which has started a conversation and helped promote just what Scotch + Limon can do. And it’s a sign of the times that the number one best selling spirit in Selfridges is non-alcoholic. The Australian vermouth brand that they work with, Regal Rogue, fits into this trend of lower abv. Paired with tonic water it’s 0.8 of a unit.
The creativity which the guys approached these brands is outstanding and the way forward for small producers. Who would have though a non-alcoholic Martini would ever grace the lips of the world's best bartenders. And yet here they all are, sipping on chilled Seedlip and olives.
Chuckle brothers Barrie and Fabrice.
Scotch + Limon are wonderfully summed up by their own strap line – getting the right brands into the right hands. And after so long in the industry they’re the perfect pair to achieve such specific results.
“Yes we’re here to run a business but also to give back to an industry we love,” says Barrie. “It’s the best game in the world.”